Town and school officials announced that they have figured out a way to pay for new laptops for high school students for the next four years without making a serious dent in the capital budget.
On Monday, the Board of Selectmen and the school administration discussed their plan to fund 1,200 laptops for all ninth through 12th grade high school students beginning with the incoming freshman class, which also will be the first class to enter and graduate from the new high school scheduled to open in September.
The plan is to lease 1,200 laptops at a cost of $1,000 per unit for a total of $1.2 million and pay for it over four years.
Initially, the funding would have come from the following sources: $700,000 from the technology line item in the school building project, $300,000 from the capital budget, and $200,00 from the schools’ operating budget ($50,000 a year for four years).
However, that plan has changed. The $700,000 from the school building project will not be used, nor will the $300,000 from the capital budget.
Instead, the school department will fund half the cost of the lease using $150,000 from their next year’s FY15 operating budget, and the town will provide the other half of the funding using $100,000 from unused debt levy and $50,000 from the tax levy, which will be allocated for the purposes of short term debt.
The unused debt levy becomes available when debt for major town and school projects rolls off the books.
“If we don’t need it, we don’t use it,” explained Finance Director John Madden.
For the subsequent three years of the contract, $50,000 from the tax levy will be put into the short-term debt line item in the budget to pay for the lease.
“We will carry the leasing line item for the term of the lease,” said Madden.
The first plan to use $300,000 in capital project funds bothered town officials because it meant sustaining that amount in the capital budget for three more years.
At press time, the Finance Committee had not supported the first plan to fund the laptops. It was expected to vote again on the new plan on Tuesday night.
The proposal for laptop funding can be discussed at town meeting as part of the FY15 operating budget in Article 5.
Finance Committee chairman Betsy Sullivan was upset at the lack of a vision for the future for the schools’ technology needs. She wanted the schools to produce a five-year plan and she worried that the opening of the new schools would put a strain on the town’s finances, suspecting that the schools’ budget would have to expand to meet future needs. At present, Sullivan said there money wasn’t available for a larger school budget and she was concerned that voters would have to consider a Proposition 2 1/2 tax override to pay for school spending.
“We have got to hit the pause button because we are outstripping our ability to pay,” Sullivan said. “Next year, I hope that with the operating budget, there is not a technology request of $300,000 on top of that.”
Superintendent Dr. Ben Tantillo responded that the schools probably would have a capital request for technology for the elementary schools, which are currently using items like iPads.
“They have technology now and that’s going to wear out and you have to replenish that,” he said.
Tantillo said incorporating new laptops for every student into the schools was really about bringing teaching and learning into the 21st century.
“This isn’t really about laptops,” he said. “Laptops are just a tool. They allow students to have resources at their fingertips. It’s a change in the way we teach.”
As part of the high school laptop proposal, parents would be offered an insurance plan of $56 per year that carries a $100 deductible. Or they could self-insure the computers and pay a $500 deductible if anything happened to the laptops.